Top 5 Articles

Top 5 Articles on Tech Tools for Engagement

Compiled and annotated by Alyssa Russo, Ruth Monnier, and Michael Saar, members of the DOLS Research and Publications Committee. December 2021.

Among the various challenges of remote instruction, cultivating engagement in the learning process is key to motivating, challenging, and exciting learners. Likewise, librarians are faced with the daunting task of selecting the best tech tools to build online learning objects from an ever-growing sea of products. The five articles selected for this installment of DOLS Top 5 showcase tools, new and old, that librarians innovatively used to support student engagement best practices.

Ibacache, K., Rybin Koob, A., & Vance, E. (2021). Emergency remote library instruction and tech tools: A matter of equity during a pandemic. Information Technology & Libraries, 40(2), 1–30. 

In this article, Ibacache, Rybin Koob and Vance take a macroscopic view of how technology has been utilized by instruction librarians in the immediate wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Librarians with instruction responsibilities, like many instructors, were tasked with quickly realigning their approach to instruction as courses moved online in the spring of 2020. These decisions included determining the modality of instruction, the best tools to promote engagement and active learning as well as navigating issues pertaining to availability and accessibility of technological learning tools. To gauge librarians’ responses to these choices, the authors distributed an online survey that solicited the tools used to deliver online content; technological tools used to engage student participation; perceptions of the relative strengths and weaknesses surrounding these tools; and any gaps in digital literacy that might be a barrier to equitable access to information literacy instruction online. This survey of preferred tools and the corresponding strengths and weaknesses can provide guidance to other librarians in choosing tools to utilize for online instruction as well as recognizing potential challenges students may face in an online learning environment.


  • Except for Zoom (1st) and LibGuides (2nd), there was a great deal of variance in librarian preferences for content delivery. A similar lack of consensus surrounded preferences for engagement tools with Google Forms being far ahead of any other single choice. When compared to the high ratings “Ease of Use” received in the list of strengths, this suggests librarians opted for tools that were familiar or had a low barrier of entry during the rapid shift to online instruction.
  • As with librarians, ease of use should be a consideration for students as well. The authors suggest transparency on which tech tools are being utilized in instruction and the reasons for these selections. The authors also suggest providing a glossary of these tools including links for tech support. 
  • Respondents cited access to internet and technological hardware as potential challenges in remote instruction. Lack of equipment at home could be mitigated through programs that lend needed tools to users. 
  • Survey responses indicated some confusion on the concept of digital literacy, despite being defined for the participants in the survey. Instruction librarians may need to solidify their understanding of how digital literacy manifests itself among students especially in emergency remote teaching settings among a diverse student population.

Mortimore, J. M., & Baker, R. L. (2019). Supporting Student-Led Content Creation in the Distance Learning Environment with LibGuides CMS. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 13(1–2), 88–103.

Mortimore and Baker discuss a pilot project utilizing LibGuides CMS as an online instructional tool in two courses (a first-year composition course and an introductory digital humanities course). The authors note that while a great deal of literature exists on LibGuides, there is very little on student-led content creation in the platform and (at the time of the article’s publication) nothing in the context of online learning. LibGuides CMS is an add-on feature of the popular application that allows for greater granularity in content creation and control of publication and access rules (among other features). These features allow students to produce their own content in the platform under the guidance of their course instructor and the support of librarians. While the courses in this study were delivered in a hybrid model, most of the work was done digitally in LibGuides CMS which makes it an ideal tool for engaging student activity in a virtual setting.


  • The existing familiarity many librarians have with LibGuides allows them to train the students and serve as continuing support as students work on their projects. This allows students to quickly create content in the platform without the burden of learning and mastering a new technological tool on their own.
  • As discussed in their first-year writing course, this platform is ideal for projects where students are creating multi-media blogs within a course. The granularity of the CMS platform allows each student to have control over their own personal page within a course group.
  • The digital humanities course demonstrates the potential LibGuides CMS has as an e-portfolio hosting platform. This provides a scalable, cost-effective publishing platform that students can use after graduation to market themselves. 
  • An additional benefit of this project was it allowed for strengthened, semester-long relationships between disciplinary faculty and librarians. 

Paschke-Wood, J., Dubinsky, E., & Sult, L. (2020). Creating a student-centered alternative to research guides: Developing the infrastructure to support novice learners. In the Library with the Lead Pipe, from 

Paschke-Wood, Dubinsky, and Sult demonstrate how LibGuides can be reimagined as instructional tools that engage students in the research process. Research guides are often used as supplemental and alternative instruction to in-person library workshops. Yet, they tend to focus on long lists of resources offered without context that critically lends meaning-making to novice student researchers. The authors found that LibGuides at their institution were underused. They concluded that the library prioritized user experience (e.g., issues of consistent branding, function, and navigation) over considerations for learner experience design that better supports learning. To address this concern, the authors developed a FAQ landing page using LibGuides that allows students self-directed pathways to research process questions, breaking down research into smaller steps. Rather than completing a long tutorial on credible sources, a student may simply click on the FAQ “How do I know if a journal is significant in my field?” to get quick and targeted guidance.


  • Librarians have predominantly used LibGuides to produce content-focused guides; however, this tool can be adapted to produce engaging instruction-focused guides.
  • Chunking out the research process into bite-sized, introductory-level learning objects offers students just the right amount of help so they don’t feel lost in complex library systems. 
  • Adapting a new model like this will require training and support for guide creators. To this end, LibGuide templates aren’t the bad guy, but there should be multiple templates to support flexibility and multiple functions that any given guide might serve (e.g, lists of resources vs. instructional). See UAL’s blueprint solution.

Sewell, A. (2021). Creating a choose-your-own-adventure library orientation: The process of using a text-based, interactive storytelling tool to take your orientation virtual. Journal of New Librarianship, 6(1), 23–32.

Sewell provides a realistic practical view of transitioning a low-stakes library orientation game to a virtual and hybrid environment to meet the needs of students and instructors. The goal of the game was to introduce students to the library and its related services while balancing concerns on burnout, purposeful engagement, delivery method, and learners’ choice. Using Twine, an online interactive storytelling tool, Sewell outlines mistakes she made when adopting this new tool with limited knowledge as well as her successes with the final product. 


  • Twine creates an interactive asynchronous personal experience low-stakes orientation for distance and online students as well as in-person students.
  • Using new tools require beta-testing and learning curve for implementation, reviewing the how-to guides at the beginning of the process saves you time at the end and creates a better product.
  • Choose-your-own-adventure format gives students’ agency to select what is most relevant to their needs and interests.

Suni, K., & Brown, C. (2021). We can do it for free!: Using freeware for online patron engagement. Information Technology and Libraries, 40(1), Article 1.

Suni and Brown sought ways to promote their department – special collections – online during the pandemic without the content being buried in social media algorithms and in the general library’s blog. The authors outline the considerations of developing a separate departmental online repository including staff labor, stable landing page, platform, costs, branding, and sustainability. The article reviews easy interactive technology for content creation as well as analytics. In discussing the downfalls of failing to consider accessibility issues upfront, the authors emphasize the importance of inclusive design from the early stages on.  


  • Creating and using an online repository with the Google Suite allows for smaller staffed institutions and those with minimum budgets to have interactive online engagement on a stable landing page. 
  • Flippity and Jigsaw Planet are two interactive tech tools to create asynchronous game-based content for patrons; Zencastr, Audacity, and Anchor can be used in podcasting production and distribution. 
  • Freeware tools like and Google Analytics are usable for tracking information, but have limitations. 
  • Online repositories are a living history of libraries events, promotions, and collections.